The People Smash Gibson in Newark

Amiri Baraka

Editor’s note: On May 13, Newark City Councilman Sharpe James scored a major victory over 16-year incumbent Mayor Kenneth Gibson. James won the mayoral contest with 31,000 votes to Gibson’s 22,000 votes.  James won in all five of Newark’s wards, knocking Gibson out in his traditional strongholds. Two other candidates received about 5% of the vote.

PeopleSmashGibson1-5NEWARK, N.J. — Bourgeois newspapers, never a standard of truth or analysis, are crying “upset,” but the people of Newark take it more in stride. They are joyous, they are slapping each other’s hands, and hugging old friends and new acquaintances and expressing unbridled joy, but they knew Gibson was gone — because they had decided it was time.

Any cursory investigation of mass sentiment would tell you Gibson was gone. A poll, taken by the Sharpe James group earlier in the campaign, revealed that although 96% of the people knew Gibson’s name, only 39% of those same people said they would vote for him.

James on the other hand, with about 38% name recognition, got near 70% of these same folks when they were asked about who they would vote for for mayor.

Gibson said he would spend $800,000 to retain his seat, and judging by the mass of paper, posters, leaflets, billboards, even a 30-page book produced to replicate the popular Jet magazine, replete with the mayor’s “accomplishments,” he did spend close to that.

A motorcade on the weekend just before the election had almost every car equipped with loudspeakers. But because of this conspicuous consumption, none of the words could be understood.

All the mayoral candidates talked bad about the mayor, the horrible condition of the city, the lack of vision or intelligence Gibson’s misleadership displayed. His Papa Doc-like dictatorship and repression, his lack of interest in the city or its people. Yet the Star Ledger (once the Newark Star Ledger but now unwilling to identify with the city in which it sprawls sucking up city services) endorsed Gibson.

Another candidate, ex-Board of Education President Oliver Brown, was endorsed by the New York Times. But Brown, a recent resident, had neither popular ties nor a well thought-out campaign. So the Times was simply trying to get Gibson re-elected without having to throw out its hand. (The CWP — Communist Workers Party, now known as the New Democratic Movement — backed Brown as well and pulled good activists away from James in their futile “left” rightism which was, as usual, wrong again.)

James’ candidacy had, as we commented earlier, the principal importance that he could win. And tactically the League of Revolutionary Struggle believed the best move was to work to unseat Gibson’s 16-year-old corrupt do-nothing regime, thereby creating a new alignment of political forces in the city.

As bad and as dirty as this city is, it is still characterized by a relatively politically advanced citizenry. In 1970, Gibson was elected as the first black mayor of a major Northeastern city. This victory came as the most tangible result of a long period of political education gained through struggle and well organized tactical leadership.

Because people had put so much blood, sweat and tears into the Community’s Choice victory (including the 1967 rebellion which saw 29 people killed), they still were reluctant to immediately attack Gibson as they became clearer and clearer of his negative direction.

But by 1980, it was clear mass sentiment favored his removal. Earl Harris, then City Council president, came close to unseating Gibson. But mass perception of his backers as “mob-oriented” and his calling for police dogs caused his defeat.

Even in 1980, Sharpe James got more votes than anyone except Gibson. By 1985, there was a general mass feeling that not only was it time for Gibson to go, but James seemed the leading candidate to replace him.

Electoral politics in a bourgeois democracy must be utilized as the “legal” struggle that Lenin and Mao detailed which is a necessary and protracted tactic of waging democratic struggle.  For the African American people, political representation has always been one key aspect of their struggle for democracy. Since the African American people are denied even bourgeois democracy as a legacy of chattel slavery and its protofascist denial of black democratic rights.

Chauvinist distortion of the Afro American national question has always plagued the left. As well as the infantile leftism of being anti-electoral politics.  Too often, would-be Marxist-Leninists would rather have miniature forums where they talk to each other like religious cultists than plunge into mass politics armed with revolutionary analysis.

Struggling in electoral politics is no less valuable than activism in trade unions, and for the largely nonunion Afro American workers, urban politics often touches a sharper nerve. A result of black national oppression. Black democratic struggle is by historical definition essentially revolutionary. Equality in the U.S. is a democratic demand but white supremacy is the fundamental philosophy (as the fundamental economic basis of society, slavery) of U.S. society.

The black struggle in the U.S. is not unlike the Irish struggle against England, especially if you understand the national territory (Black-belt South) of the African American people is occupied by imperialism. Except that racism as the special superexploitive class repression used to maintain aspects of slavery (feudalism) is still very profitable. Since the large urban centers have large black pluralities and even majorities (replications in the main of Black-belt segregation and oppression), political representation means political control.  And that ought to mean economic control.  Minimally, control of huge city budgets through the business contracts and employment they represent.  More and more, Self-Determination will emerge as the focus of the mass democratic struggle in these cities.  Since the bourgeoisie will now attempt to limit and eliminate or coopt black self-determination.

Since the coming of an elected school board in this city, the undercurrent from the rulers is that the state must take control of the schools. This neo-fascism is in motion in the media already. (There is equally murderous talk of the state police taking over Newark police.  In New York state, they discussed New York City schools being taken over by the state, since the black and Puerto Rican majority population is obviously about to seize political power in the near future.)

The large urban working class and progressive petty bourgeoisie (especially minorities) will easily come to see the issue of self-determination in its most immediate and practical application.  Real control of the city agencies and finances.

The creation of social, educational and cultural amenities within the city (theaters, concert halls, free city cultural and social programs, stronger ties to the urban community’s actual needs, enhanced art and athletic programs within the schools, control of institutions like museums, libraries, concert halls, radio stations by the residents) would have deep social impact, and even a devastating economic one on the various suburbs whose income is largely derived from Newark citizens’ taxes. This is one part of the resistance.

But a politically effective and organized largely black opinion is negative to the rulers, since that opinion will differ generally on any issue in the world, especially black national oppression.

Especially in this current dangerous rightist domination, electoral politics must be used as anti-fascist popular fronts and Marxists as the agitators and propagandists of struggle oriented consciousness raising. The political struggles of the African American people continually expose the lack of democracy that does now and has always characterized black life in the U.S. But now these struggles draw attention to the attacks on democracy by Reagan of the masses of all workers, and even large sections of the urban petty bourgeoisie and farmers.

Blacks and other oppressed nationalities are used to justify anti-democratic and repressive policies. The restoration of the death penalty, unlimited search and seizure (even of children), squashing of the Miranda rights clause, attacks on welfare, food stamps, unemployment benefits, the elimination of multitudes of positive social programs, including university scholarships, all have been accomplished using black and Latino or other national minorities as “lazy freeloaders” and “congenital criminals” whose “abuses” necessitate the programs’ tightening up or outright elimination.

The cities are where such outright elimination of such programs is most obvious.  In addition, there is the urban renewal syndrome now known as gentrification which seeks to displace whole communities of poor and largely minority people and replace them with largely white petty bourgeois, upwardly mobile, more expensive consumers (i.e., yuppies and buppies. See University Heights.)  This also constitutes a political shift since the gentrified community will be to the right of the displaced largely minority and working class and poor residents.

The issues of employment and economic development, education, housing, youth and seniors, women, institutional development, the creation of a productive urban environment in a city dominated by minorities, all these issues will continuously intensify the open struggle against the right in moving the U.S. mainstream.

The issue of actual control over their lives will force a more detailed mass understanding of bourgeois democracy, its limitations, and its essential absence in many aspects of the lives of the African American people.

In general the bourgeoisie has raised anti-black, anti-minority sentiments as part of its overall offensive and attack on all working people. Any method of expanding black political force, of reawakening the masses to higher levels of struggle is an important area of work for revolutionaries.

The content of black political struggle is anti-imperialist. Any rightward motion in society attacks the African American people first and sharpest since they are still as a result of chattel slavery at the bottom of society.  They are kept there by the most overtly undemocratic policies and ideological assaults within the U.S. today.

To reassert and reimpose national oppression (i.e. the robbery and deprival of democratic rights) at the level and intensity necessary to strip the present level of rights away, because the economic contraction of U.S. imperialism means it must attack its own citizens and quality of their lives to maintain its maximum profits. As far as the bourgeoisie is concerned the African American people must be turned around. Attacks on affirmative action are meant to stop black employment in key areas so the existing jobs can go to whites, preferably men. The attacks on ERA and abortion are to keep women in the home, hopefully pregnant, to open up more jobs for white men (Hitler’s kinder, kirche, kuche).

Liberation and the anti-colonial struggles, increased contention with Japan and the European common market, economic and political struggle with the Soviet Union, have all served to bottle up U.S. imperialism and to stop its life-giving expansionism.  Imperialism must continue to expand to exist.  All these trends have cut into U.S. superprofits. The invasion of black Grenada, threats around Nicaragua, the bombing of north African Libya, the open support of South African anti-black fascism, are meant to stop the contraction of U.S. imperialism in search for new methods of expansion.

The U.S. economy is directly tied to its international domination.  Both national revolutions and superpower contention cut into the superprofits necessary to maintain maximum profits for the big U.S. bourgeoisie but at the same time pretend to democracy and to maintain the quality of life. Cities are the hotbeds of democratic anti-rightist struggle because of the makeup of the population, largely minority working class and petty bourgeoisie. (Even the urban petty bourgeoisie during this period of rightist attack feels a distinct loss of quality of life.)  Real control of these cities by the residents would be catastrophic for the rulers of this surrogate (almost all non-urban). The resources and communications, transportation, cultural infrastructure, historical social institutions, all are in urban centers, despite the media-created illusion of a non-urban, suburban focus of American culture.

The suburban emphasis of America’s wealth and power is illusory.  The cities are still the centers and repository of social and economic power. The black, Latino largely working class and progressive petty bourgeoisie-controlled city governments must contend with traditional bastions of U.S. power in order to achieve self-determination (“community control” as it was called in the ’60’s).  This is the only way the quality of life for inner city residents can be improved to any extent within bourgeois democracy.

Mao’s line thought revolution in the well developed bourgeois democracy would have its catalyst and explosion in the cities and proceed outwards (“Problems of Strategy and Tactics”). But only after protracted legal struggle (struggle in trade unions, electoral politics, other mass struggles for democracy).  Control of cities’ institutions means not only enhanced economic development (jobs, small business creation, etc.), but ideological development with sharper and sharper open opposition to the dominating neo-fascist line of the big bourgeoisie

Newark already has a municipal ban on the Klan; an anti-apartheid policy which rejects any products made in South Africa; a progressive rent control law and a great many grass-roots oriented activists now in public life

The elected Board of Education will prove a powerful and vocal deterrent to attempted state takeover.  Even its local police will mobilize to block state takeover (see Irvington police killing article, page 9).

Sharpe James’ victory was predictable to knowledgeable political analysts working in the city. He is a more thoughtful and progressive person than Gibson and his political thrust more flexible and open to innovation.

However, he is a middle class politician, open to vacillation and needless compromise. Yet with the breakup of the Gibson dictatorship, opportunities for sharpening the anti-Reagan, anti-fascist trends in society are obvious.  It is up to progressive activists to try to maximize the influence and impact of popular demands for change, for economic development, cultural progress and self-reliance.

Lenin outlined in What Is To Be Done? and Left Wing Communism . . . the importance of electoral politics as a mass form of democratic struggle, especially in periods of revolutionary quiescence. Marxist-Leninists must correctly characterize the period we are in, and the relationship of various classes.

For instance, surely the U.S. is now the main danger of war and the principal enemy of the world’s people.  In the contradiction between imperialism and the third world, and imperialism vs. imperialism, the latter and its attendant dangers of international war and domestic fascism are now more dominant.

The South African uprising is the clearest and aggressive revolutionary light burning, that’s why its support is critical. This is also Reagan and Western imperialism’s weak point. The liberation of South Africa will rock Western imperialism to bring Great Britain to its knees and could very well set the stage (through intensified U.S. conflict with the U.S.S.R.) for World War III! U.S. aggression in Latin America and North Africa is in one aspect reaction to intensifying popular resistance to U.S. imperialism’s new anti-Soviet thrust which must attack all national liberation movements as communist and try to coopt (Haiti and the Philippines) or smash (Grenada, plans for Nicaragua) then when possible, to capture needed resources and strategic military positions to oppose the Soviet Union.

The new rise of Klan, white patriots, anti Holocaust anti-Semites, bombs in abortion clinics, attacks on progressive social development and outright support for white supremacy by the Moral Majority; the Catholic Church’s open support for reaction in Latin America and opposition to abortion and gay rights, all are part of the neo-fascist imperialist offensive led by Reagan and “the most reactionary sector of finance capital.”

Cities must be struggled for, mass opinion mobilized and educated so that they more consciously are anti-fascist voices and forces. Democratic struggle cannot divert the struggle for socialism, Lenin taught us, it is an indispensable part of it.